Earlier this month, when suicide-bombers struck in London, the fashionable analysis in the chic circles was that the attacks came because Muslims were angry at the US-led intervention in Iraq. The fact that no Iraqis were involved in the attack and no Iraqis approved of them, seemed to matter little to those who still mourn the demise of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Ba’athist regime.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that it is not only the bienpensants in London who are grieving over the liberation of Iraq. Opposition to the liberation of Iraq has become a cause-celebre for the broader British elite.
And this is why William Shawcross’ book “ Allies” is a timely contribution to the debate.
Shawcross has impeccable credentials as a member of the British intellectual elite. In his journalistic career he covered the wars in Indochina, earning a well-deserved reputation as a critic of American policy in Vietnam and Cambodia. He won special praise for exposing Henry Kissinger’s duplicitous style that led the Nixon administration into deep waters and worse. In the 2980s Shawcross turned his attention to Iran, still grappling with its Khomeinist revolution. The result was a moving account of the late Shah’s final moments, a tale of terror and tribulation.
In “Allies” Shawcross shows how the liberation of Iraq emerged as a defining moment in the history of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) which, with the Cold War over, had lost its original raison d’etre without finding a new one. Logically, the toppling of Saddam Hussein should have united the NATO allies like never before. Here was a despicable regime that had provoked two major regional wars within a decade, and had defied the will of the United Nations for over 12 years while giving every indication that it was preparing for further military conflict. To bring such a regime to book could be a new and honorable goal for the old alliance.
But this was not to be. Shawcross shows that France, partly because of President Jacques Chirac’s old friendship with Saddam Hussein, but also as a result of deep-rooted anti-American sentiments led the way to splitting NATO over Iraq. Chirac was then followed by the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who opposed the liberation of Iraq out of crass opportunism. Schroeder was facing a difficult general election and was told by pollsters that the only way his Social democrat Party (SPD) might be returned to power was to please the section of the electorate that consisted of middle-aged women voters. The number-one issue for those voters at the time was Iraq. And they were overwhelmingly opposed to any military action against Saddam Hussein.
With two major European states endorsing anti-American sentiments, all those elements that had hated the United States for a variety of reasons and for decades came out of the woodworks to claim a new legitimacy.
Shawcross writes: “ In the 1990s, with globalization apparently unstoppable and Americanization apparently ineluctable, it was, perhaps, inevitable that a perception gap between Europe and America would grow and contribute to the pent-up demand by many Europeans to express themselves in ways that had not been possible during the Cold War.”
Whether liberating the people of Iraq from the claws of the monster was righter wrong no longer mattered. What mattered was the expression of pent-up anti-American sentiments.
Shawcross writes: Anti-Americanism became the new rock’n’roll. Or, rather, since anti-Americanism is hardly new and rock’n’roll was always American, it was an old folksong revived. It made people feel good. Sometimes it is understandable, even justifiable. More often it is a mixture of hypocrisy and delusion.”
Shawcross shows how the Europeans resented the United States’ power to make a difference in world affairs while depending on it at the most crucial moments. The Europeans failed to do anything to stop the genocide in Rwanda and watched for years while Serbs, Croats and Muslims massacred each other in the disintegrating Yugoslavia. In the end had it not been for US intervention the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the genocide in Kosovo might have continued for many more decades.
All along the United Nations tended to side with the Europeans and espoused similar anti-American sentiments while always depending on American power to face major crises across the globe.
Shawcross’ book might at times give the impression that a majority of Europeans opposed the liberation of Iraq. But this was not the case. In fact, only five out of the NATO’s original 19 members adopted a hostile position towards the US-led coalition. They were France, Germany, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg. All others supported the liberation and , in most cases, contributed troops to the task. Britain has played a key role all along while Italy’s presence within the alliance has given to an additional European dimension. Spain, too, was an important member of the alliance until March 2004 when a series of Al Qaeda attacks in Madrid frightened the Spaniards into sweeping the anti-war parties onto power.
Some of the most fascinating parts of this fast-paced book consist of Shawcross’ eyewitness account of developments in liberated Iraq. He has visited the country several times, most recently at the end of last year, and has been able to gauge Iraqi opinion across a fairly broad spectrum.
It is obvious that over the years Shawcross has developed great sympathy for the Iraqi people. He has been witness to their heroic stamina in the face of seemingly impossible odds; a nation shattered by decades of despotism trying to stand on its feet and build a modern and democratic society.
Shawcross does not hide the difficulties that new Iraq faces. In fact, he goes out of his way to catalogue them in some detail. But his final message is one of confident hope. He knows that thanks to the heroic efforts of the Iraqi people, the commitment of the American, British and other allies, and the readiness of so many young men and women to risk their lives , Iraq will end up as a success.